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‘He left it to his wife, Ruth, to supervise having the three rooms knocked into one.’ The drawing room typifies the Howard image.
Another room built for Howard has fallen into disrepair – the private cinema next to the swimming pool.
This is used for storage but it’s still poignant to stand at the dusty Art Deco bar – where Walt Disney is pictured in the sepia picture in Ruth’s bedroom – and imagine when the giant projectors, still in working order, whirred into life and the latest film played on the big screen.
They’d drive to the local pub to catch sight of them.’ Howard’s reasons for buying in the Surrey Hills – a glorious patch of woodland and heath near Dorking – seemed straightforward.
Then, as now, it was one of the most desirable areas in southern England.
Although he seemed the perfect gentleman, he was a formidable ladies’ man.
He is said to have had affairs with many of his co-stars and installed his favourite mistress, actress Violete Cunnington, in nearby Denham.
‘We still get many high-profile buyers and at present there’s a great shortage of houses,’ says Serena Brown of Brown’s estate agents, Cranleigh.
Behind the high hedges there are much sought-after country houses – Howard’s former home is a prime example – and their prices begin at about the [pounds sterling]1.25million mark.
‘His marriage to Ruth was strong,’ says Ann Wickham, ‘but she certainly knew of his girlfriends.
The maid, who still lived in the village in the Eighties, told me that Ruth insisted that Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman stay at the local hotel instead of at the house on party weekends.’ The little sitting room, Ann discovered, was Howard’s domain.
He paid [pounds sterling]3,000 for the house but, according to Ann, was unhappy at first.